Max BRUCH (1838-1920)
Scottish Fantasy Op. 46 [30:35]
Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor Op. 26 [25:16]
Romance for violin and orchestra in F major Op. 85 (arr. Guy Braunstein) [8:36]
Guy Braunstein (violin)
Bamberger Symphoniker-Bayerische Staatsphilharmonie/Ion Marin
rec. Joseph-Keilberth-Saal, Konzerthalle Bamberg, 16-19 September 2011. SACD
TUDOR 7188 [64:27]
 
I have no idea how many recordings there are of the Scottish Fantasy and the Violin Concerto No 1, either together or separately, but I suspect that the total is very large. Any new versions need to be special in some way to make any kind of impact, especially at full price. Fortunately this version is special, but not by being spectacular, eccentric or glamorous. Its merits are instead based on gentle and honest musicianship. This can be enjoyed alongside solid technique and a clear understanding of the underlying character that makes these works special.
 
Guy Braunstein has been the concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic since 2000, although according to the booklet he will be leaving this post at some time in 2013 to concentrate on his solo career. Even if you were unaware of this you could tell immediately from listening to this disc that here is a soloist who is as concerned with his interaction with the orchestra as with projecting his own part. His playing is characterised by its gentleness and lyricism. That said, he has a formidable virtuoso technique which is needed in the more extrovert parts of both the main works, especially the Scottish Fantasy. Elsewhere his quiet playing is of especial beauty and there is a rapt intensity to his phrasing that is not solely the result of a generous vibrato. You might expect that with these virtues there would go a tendency to linger over the slower sections in the Concerto in particular. Fortunately that is not the case. Braunstein and Marin take careful note of the direction Allegro moderato for the first movement (Vorspiel) of the Concerto, and whilst the solo lines are played ad libitum as directed there is a real and unusual sense of forward movement in the main parts of this movement. This enables the central section of the Concerto (Adagio) to be a contrast with it. All too many performances make the first two movements which together form the bulk of the work sound either slow or slower. Even more important there is an eloquent and unforced lyricism about Braunsteinís playing that brings out an inherent nobility in the music and avoids any hint of excess. The Romanze was originally written for viola but sounds just as effective on the violin. Again the performance is eloquent.
 
In all three pieces the contribution of the Bamberger Symphoniker is of a quality that goes well beyond mere dutiful accompaniment. The recording has clear and natural balance that ensures that the quality of the performances can fully appreciated. This may be a far from unusual coupling but performances of this quality are certainly unusual.
 
John Sheppard
 
Performances of this quality are certainly unusual.

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